UT to require redesigned essay portion of new SAT test

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Prospective students still have to take the essay portion of the new SAT tests — despite changes to its format by College Board — when submitting test scores to UT, according to the Office of Admissions.

UT will still require the essay portion of the test alongside the reading and writing section and math section of the new SAT to measure its effectiveness in predicting student success at UT, according to Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research. It will take a year of collecting new SAT test scores to validate their use as predictors of freshman GPA, he said.

“We’re going to be looking particularly at the writing test to see whether or not it’s necessary for us to require that, and, in order to do that, we have to collect [data] to do the studies,” Lavergne said. “The value of these tests is that it gives us a standardized measure across time and geographic boundaries.”

The College Board announced last year that it would introduce a redesigned version of the SAT in March 2016 to focus on important academic skills taught in schools. The College Board will give students the choice to take the essay portion of the SAT, but some colleges may still require it for admission. The essay will require students read a passage and “explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [the] audience,” according to The College Board website.

Lavergne said the changes to the SAT were based on the skills colleges expect from incoming freshmen.

“The changes in the test are driven by what message we want to send high school students,” Lavergne said. “They keep their finger on the pulse of higher education and know what — in general terms — what higher education wants from incoming freshman and what changes they want to make.”

Lorraine Pangle, a government professor who directs the Jefferson Scholars Program, said she is skeptical of the validity of SAT scores. Pangle said she lightly considers test scores when evaluating students for admission to the program, a course sequence focusing on great books from several ages in history.

“As a predictor of college success, it’s pretty weak,” Pangle said. “I wish we had a better replacement.”

Andrew McMasters, high school junior from Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas, said he likes the changes made to the SAT and plans to take it once the new test is administered.

“I like it because if you get a question wrong, it doesn’t count against you.” McCasters said. “If I’m down to two answers and I’m pretty sure I know the right answer, I feel confident in picking an answer because points won’t be taken off for it.”

Sociology sophomore Paula Millan said changes to the SAT do not reduce its overemphasized role in the admissions process. 

“It’s very difficult to grade people on one exam because not everyone learns the same,” Millan said. “I think they’re trying to fix it, and, in a way, make it easier.”